By Dr. John Stegeman, Head of Upper School
Eastside Preparatory School’s culminating events for the Class of 2021 included a mix of in-person and remote events, all designed to celebrate the accomplishments of an amazing group of seniors. While Senior Dinner was held remotely (with seniors and parents invited to pick up dinner by driving through campus), graduation was held in-person in the TALI Theatre and live-streamed so extended family and friends could attend. What follows are excerpts from speeches given during the ceremony.
DR. MACK HINSON, PRESIDENT, BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Welcome to the thirteenth Commencement Ceremony of Eastside Preparatory School. We have much for which to be grateful as we see the waning of the pandemic. The ability to be together here today is certainly one of those things for which to be thankful. I fully realize the challenges you have faced in the past year. You are to be commended for your fortitude in the face of obstacles and for your adaptability in navigating what has often been a chaotic environment.
I read something several months ago that Sally Grimes, the CEO of Clif Bars, said and it struck me as very profound. She said, “Humility is not the opposite of confidence. It is the freedom for learning.”
I would encourage you as you go forward to find ways to practice humility. It doesn’t mean that you are not confident in what you know. It simply means that a humble mind fully knows there are things to be learned. The freedom to continue to learn is a great gift and humility creates a capacity within you to do so. I read something in which the author said, “Curiosity is better than being smart.” Practice humility. Find the freedom for learning. And always, always be curious.
The poet e. e. cummings said, “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” We wish for you a life of curiosity, of wonder, and of delight in our shared experience of being human.
DR. JOHN STEGEMAN, HEAD OF UPPER SCHOOL
The Class of 2021—that unfortunate group who lost their senior year to COVID-19. The Class of 2021—that accomplished group of students who took from that experience strength, wisdom, and empathy. When I think of you…when I look upon what you’ve accomplished this year…when I look upon you as individuals, and you as a group…I do not see self-pity. I do not see regret. I see leadership tempered in the furnace of misfortune. I see the feeling and the self-forgetting borne of collective struggle. You did that, you made that, in a world that seemed to melt down around you. You chose that harder path, when it would have been much easier, and so justified, to give in, to give up, or to just show up, put in your time, and ride out
You have chosen to see opportunity amid our circumstances all year long. You have embraced technological tools to participate in classes in new and meaningful ways. You have patiently supported your teachers as they adapted, and took the inevitable delays and awkward moments in stride. You have stayed connected with one another, despite
distance and isolation, through social events and school traditions. And you continued to lead our school community to become more equitable and inclusive by celebrating our rich cultural diversity through assembly presentations, club activities, and what I hope is the first of many, many more Culture Nights.
As you embark on the next leg of your life’s journey, the past fifteen months will surely leave its marks upon you. At every fork in the road, you get to choose whether to go left or right, and every time you gaze back to see from where you came, you make a choice about what that experience means to you. You’re at one of those forks now. As you step into this future that still contains so many unknowns, you will choose whether to hunker down and ride it out, or lean in, engage, and solve these great problems. My hope for you…our hope for you…the thing we’ve been training you for intentionally and circumstantially…is to embrace the people and circumstances you encounter and make a better world.
ETHAN BELL, STUDENT SPEAKER
I feel like the class of 2021 has this interesting sense of unity. Maybe it’s all the stuff we have been through together. Maybe it’s that I feel like we have seen each other grow and become ourselves, literally in front of each other’s eyes.
I was recently reminded of a beautiful moment we all had during our junior overnight. On the night of that trip, there was a beautiful sunset. I specifically remember all of us walking down to the shore to just stare at this stunning display of nature. Nothing scheduled, just all of us, on the beach, watching the sun dip below the horizon. This moment was almost as beautiful as the sunset itself.
I believe that there is one quote that is very applicable here. It’s coined by Mr. Ping himself, from Kung Fu Panda. The quote is, “There is no secret ingredient.” The way I have interpreted it is that there is no secret ingredient to life, to happiness, to fulfillment. There is no step-by-step procedure to feeling complete. You just have to go with it. A lot of commencement speeches talk about the next four years, and how hard and important they’re going to be, and how we are going to make a difference, and all that. And while that’s true, I believe that it is really easy to constantly think about what will happen, instead of living in the moment. So what I’m trying to say is take a step back. Stop thinking so much about the future. Just like with the pandemic, you never know what’s going to happen, but if we all choose to live a little in the moment each day, just like we did with that sunset, we may find more fulfillment than we could have ever found otherwise.
SYDNEY VERNON, STUDENT SPEAKER
Since my sister was new to Eastside Prep as a ninth grader this year, just like I was a few years ago, I’ve been thinking a little bit about my first memories at EPS. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the commute between the Annex and main campus that defined our freshman year. I realized that I actually met some of my closest friends on that walk. Very quickly, what first seemed like an inconvenience as TALI was being constructed turned out to be a great, if unusual, introduction to EPS. I remember so many sidewalk conversations about the growing athletics programs, Medieval Literature, the Fusor project, and the beloved coffee cart. And that’s how I got to know the Class
of 2021: passionate and endearingly quirky, with dedication
From the EPS campus evolving around us to the series of unfortunate events that was our upperclassman experience, our class has been shaped by change. Particularly through all the changes brought on by the pandemic, those same values of dedication and initiative have been clearer than ever.
I’ve been endlessly inspired by my classmates getting politically involved; volunteering; founding nonprofits and businesses and movements; and educating themselves and others outside of the classroom.
I’ll remember these things when the friends I’ve made here become the world’s best—and kindest—leaders making a difference in every field imaginable. After all this tragedy and absolute chaos, I really can’t wait to see what comes next.
I couldn’t be more proud of our grade, or grateful to have been a part of Eastside Prep. We entered high school at a critical point in EPS history, and today we graduate at a critical point in world history. Through all the wild changes in between, we grew together as a class, and grew as people who are now ready to make change of our own.
DR. TERRY MACALUSO, HEAD OF SCHOOL
If I’ve learned anything during the past year and a half, it would be that the capacity to form assumptions may be a significant barrier to effective human interaction. Even so, assumption syndrome is a condition that afflicts us all. We are held hostage by our own beliefs. We’ve created a frighteningly divided country because of the assumptions we continue to make about people we don’t know. We are at risk of assuming ourselves to death. There are, of course, some useful assumptions that
make the world work, but the assumptions that allow us to confirm beliefs and notions that are entirely false are
Imagine the world we could make if everyone withheld judgment until they actually knew someone. And how enlightening it would be if even after someone is known, they’re allowed to evolve and change. What would our lives be like without stereotypes? How liberating would it be if everyone was respected just because they exist?
Have you ever found yourself so certain about an outcome, that you already “knew it” before you actually “knew it?” How did that feel when you were wrong? Have you ever expected an A and earned a B+? Have you ever thought you were being unfairly treated and then realized that you were only offended because what you assumed would happen didn’t? Have you ever been absolutely certain that some disappointment or other would destroy your life?
As you develop the capacity to avoid either automatic or cynical dependence on assumptions, you will discover the true meaning of humility.
Humility is a strength. It projects absolute respect, generosity, a hand extended in a gesture of kindness. Because humans have the capacity to imagine what might be the case, we sometimes lose our way. Humility can protect us from manufacturing a reality that we then believe exists. To be humble is to be authentically open, receptive, and curious. Imagine a world in which authentic, humble people engage with one another.
There is a way to guard against becoming a victim of your own beliefs. Be truly present. The power of NOW is staggering. When you’re focused on where you are and on what your consciousness apprehends, you are—categorically—alive. If you can teach yourself that this moment is not only all there is, it’s all there will ever be…it’s all you’ll ever need.
If you can train yourself to listen—to pay attention to where you are now and to what you are doing in this moment, you will become a cherished friend, a sought-after mentor, a supportive colleague, and an exemplar of the qualities that define the best of humanity
SENIOR AWARD WINNERS
Adapted from speeches by Dr. John Stegeman, Head of Upper School
Each year, four seniors receive awards inspired by our four mission points:
Think Critically, Act Responsibly, Lead Compassionately, and Innovate Wisely.
The Critical Thinking Award is presented to the member of the graduating class whose keen appreciation for ideas and willingness to promote intellectual discussion enlivens our classrooms and hallways on a daily basis. One teacher wrote that Lexi Scheuing “is hardworking, dedicated to the causes about which she is passionate, and mature beyond her years. She puts 100% effort into every project she tackles.” Another teacher adds, “Lexi…is the student you want in your classroom—in person or online. She loves being there, loves to engage with the material, and loves to connect with her teachers and fellow students. She is unfailingly positive, laughs freely, asks questions that other students are embarrassed to ask, breaks silences, vocally supports other students for their participation, plays games with enthusiasm, contributes meaningfully to small group discussions, and in every way elevates the learning experience for everyone in the room.”
The Responsible Action Award is presented to the member of the graduating class who in both quiet, unseen actions and courageous public moments demonstrates a consistent, sincere regard for the community. Mattia da Fieno’s love for the EPS community shines through everything he does. He is often the first student to arrive in the room (physical or virtual) and always greets the teacher with a sincere “hello, how are you?” (or in some cases, “hola, ¿cómo estás?”) One teacher wrote, “Mattia is kind, in the truest sense of the word. He is not just surface-level nice, he acts with a sense of responsibility to all in his class and expresses an understanding that we are a community.”
Peers agreed, adding, “he always cares about each individual person.” Another recalled that Mattia “was among the first to introduce me to the EPS community. He definitely embodies the ideals of this award.”
The Compassionate Leadership Award is presented to the member of the graduating class whose actions consistently reflect the importance of personal responsibility and compassion for others, setting an example for all to follow. Eliana Swai is the embodiment of compassionate leadership. One teacher noted, “Eliana seeks to create a more equitable, inclusive, kind, and innovative world. She does so with grace and a steadfast compass of truth striving to see the best in others.” Another added, “Eliana has tirelessly dedicated herself to ensuring that equity and inclusion remain at the forefront of the EPS agenda, and she does all this with a calm perseverance and willingness to
listen to the views of others.” Her peers mentioned her contributions to the school community and her leadership abilities. One noted, “She is deeply committed to EPS and works hard every day to make it as safe and welcoming a place as possible.”
The Wise Innovation Award is presented to the member of the graduating class whose creativity, curiosity, and contributions illuminate new possibilities and inspire others to similar exploration. Of Kenneth Yang, one faculty member wrote, “He continues to amaze me in my interactions with him. Kenneth was the driving force for making a video game that was submitted to Microsoft, and his mentor was amazed at the creativity and approach. The amazing thing is, he is still very humble about his ability, which just makes him that much more awesome.” His classmates recognize Kenneth’s contributions similarly. “I can’t think of anyone who thinks as deeply and brings as many different questions to the table,” one peer wrote. “He’s always challenging himself and others to better understand the world.” Another commented, “He always seems eager to create and invent new things. He takes innovation to a new level.”